On Inventing – are you willing to fail?
I was once told by a ten year old boy covered in ice cream, (ice cream that was once chocolate, neon blue cotton candy and mango sorbets but had turned to a melting gray blob) that I need to be more inventive. I invent recipes all the time. I’m inventive. Or so I thought. His goatee of smeared ice cream suited the wise smile he gave me when he explained that no – I think about things and if they work in my head I do them – I need to try things that might not work. To be inventive I needed to be willing to try something that might just fail.
Wow. Am I really willing to try something that might fail? I always admire chefs who open my eyes to a new flavor combination or idea, but am I really someone who could join their ranks? Sometimes they blow my mind – I mean what kind of chef thinks of things like putting dark cherry cotton candy over seared foie gras? I don’t know what it takes to have that kind of thinking, but Chris Lee blew my mind when he served it to me. Could I really move beyond what “makes sense in my head?” I don’t know if I’m ready for that.
When I make something new I generally do a bit of research. I’ll go to a favorite recipe site and start plugging in ingredients or similar recipes into the search function. I mostly look for things like cooking times and oven temps, but the occasional picture might also inspire. I always find a logic to why I do what I do though. Like if you put ketchup on french fries then maybe tomatoes would go well in this potato dish… It’s never truly inventive.
Maybe that’s enough. At their brunch, Double Crown (NYC), serves a cinnamon roll with bacon in it. I now can no longer believe the logic that we all haven’t been putting bacon in our sweet rolls all along. Bacon goes beautifully with maple syrup. It’s only a short jump from there to cinnamon rolls through the logic of breakfast. Maybe it’s not ten year-old approved kind of invention, but it was a life-changing moment of it’s own. Does the fact that I messed up in trying to re-create them for the first time count as a failed invention? In my heart I know it doesn’t – but sometimes that’s as close to failure as I’m ready to experiment with.
Inspired by DC’s crispy brussels sprout side dish with a miso chili glaze (Also life changing. Also inspiring-ly inventive. Try it for yourself and you’ll understand my gushing) I added red peppers to my cinnamon rolls as well. I was getting all kinds of crazy – but still not quite pushing that envelope of failure. Caramelizing peppers gives them a lovely sweet flavor that makes perfect sense with bacon. Logic still killing pure creativity.
I put sugar into my bacon pepper mix – that was really where things started to go wrong. I should have left them savory and let the sugar layer blend with them in baking. Instead they spilled out like inverted caramel volcanoes destroying any baking pan sad enough to be supporting them. Their bottoms were literally soaked in burnt caramel.
My ten year-old added gummie bears to his 3 flavored ice cream experiment – they froze and didn’t stay gummy. He considered that the only failure of his vomit colored concoction. I added red bell peppers and bacon to cinnamon rolls. I think my only problem was from sugar. Maybe we’re not so different. Maybe I don’t think my creations classify as inventive because I see the logic connecting the steps of my inspirations. But maybe if I was ten I wouldn’t have bothered thinking that through. I would just add apples and chocolate to my chili and put everything but the kitchen sink into my cookies because it was there to try.
Whatever the case, that ten year old has just turned eleven. Happy Birthday Sweetie. You continue to inspire me and I’ll always push my creativity more because of your advice.
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